Regret, remorse and infidelity: Advertisers make marriage seem like purgatory.

October 17, 2011


“I should have married John Clarke.”

The other night I see these two commercials, one after the other, for State Farm and AT&T. They are both slice-of-life commercials featuring a husband and wife in conflict. On that score, they are not unlike thousands of other TV commercials. Yet, these two spots bring with them a disturbing element. In the AT&T commercial (above) the wife ridicules her husband, questioning why she ever married him. Upon doing so, she turns away from him, disgusted. In the other (below) the wife “catches” her husband on the phone late at night and immediately suspects he’s talking to another woman. She does not believe him when he tells her it’s their insurance agent. She grabs the phone to hear for herself. Even then, she’s not satisfied.


“She sounds hideous!”

If comedy was the goal, neither commercial achieved it. Instead, I found both spots painful to watch; not for the usual reasons but because of their complete lack of faith in marriage and even contempt of it. I’m no “lovey-dovey.” Though I’ve been married a long time I fully realize marriage is a commitment involving much compromise from both parties and fraught with its share of disappointments. But these commercials made it look like purgatory. If slice-of-married-life is what they were portraying then married life is not worth living.

I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic. If either situation occurred during my marriage, both of us would be devastated. If my wife seriously tells me she wishes she had married her old boyfriend (instead of me), as the lady does in the AT&T commercial, we are in a bad place and one that will likely require therapy or a divorce lawyer. In the commercial she’s not joshing with her husband; she’s fed up and full of remorse. Her regret is palpable. As is the husbands pained reaction. It’s super sad.

Intended as farce, the other spot is just as painful (full of pain). The wife is dead certain her husband is having an illicit conversation with another woman. Irate, she gives the man no quarter, not even when the truth is revealed. “She sounds hideous!” she says to her husband. It’s all so ugly.

True story: A long time ago my household received a series of crank calls from an unidentified woman. The person was drunk, high and obscene. Every second my wife contemplated I might know this woman was excruciating, for both of us. Later, when the sad truth came out about this tortured soul making crank calls, it was like a great weight lifted from our backs and hearts. But damage was done. To this day, the memory of it makes me shudder.

If you say to me these things happen all the time then you are either a) not married, or b) in a very bad marriage. Regardless, this is nothing to make a commercial about; unless, I suppose, you are a divorce lawyer or a marriage counselor.

In the past I’ve railed against the “nagging wife” and “idiot husband” stereotyped in TV commercials. This new, darker turn makes those goofy characters seem like the good old days.

9 Responses to “Regret, remorse and infidelity: Advertisers make marriage seem like purgatory.”

  1. Scott said

    Interesting.

    “If any girls are reading this here’s how I want you to dress tomorrow. Starting from the floor, put on your longest boots, brown suede. Then pour your fine self into a pair of jeans. On top rock a plaid flannel shirt. I won’t tell you what to do with your hair. Ladies- it’s that fuckin’ easy.

  2. Hey Steffan,

    Good post – the AT&T spot is so disheartening and painful that I’ve been meaning to address it myself – seriously, fro’m a brand/product standpoint, who wants to associate themselves in any way with that sad (though admittedly impactful) scene? Bad strategy in my book –

    Also, I’d humbly recommend adding “…and joys.” to you own “fraught” line – that way you won’t be in danger of bashing the institution as well😉

    Best-
    Larry

  3. Christine said

    From a different perspective, my long time boyfriend and I are deciding whether or not we want to get married—and I really hate seeing these two commercials.

    On one hand, I watch the spots knowing they’re meant to be extreme examples, but you see variations of this so much in pop culture that I find it hard to completely ignore their messages.

    Every time we see either one of these commercials my boyfriend turns to me with a raised eyebrow and asks, ‘Is that what you’re going to be like?’ He’s joking, of course. Mostly.

    And this is coming from two young professionals who grew up in very stable households with parents who are happily married. Our current relationship exhibits none of the characteristics in commercials, but there’s a pop culture notion all around us that says when you get married, things change, and not for the better. With commercials like these it’s a hard message to ignore.

    • SRP said

      Christine- Sorry took so long to post your comment; it’s a good one. “There’s a pop culture notion all around us that says when you get married, things change, and not for the better.” My point exactly. -SP

  4. I thought the AT&T spot was particularly horrible the first time I saw it as well – for the same reasons as you mention.

    Another newer trend (or perhaps old trend that has just been taken to a new extreme) I have noticed are the spots that feature dumb people as the hero associated to the product… such as the car commercial that shows moron after moron liking a new car they test drive with the message apparently being, “if you are a moron, you will love this car too”.

  5. Well I’m not married — but if I was I wouldn’t want to my marriage to be like anything in these commercials. If this commercial appeals to anyone it would be the single male in their late 30s. I think most men that aren’t married at an older age are probably insecure about the idea of marriage. Those type of males poke at the the idea of marriage to keep attention off of their relationship status. Appealing to anyone outside of ‘single-male’ audience was an epic fail. Obviously, people that are happily married wouldn’t like this advertisement and it puts out a strong negative vibe to anyone dating or considering marriage. AND this advertisment defiantly doesn’t help lower the divorce rate. Marriage is something very scared and should probably never be portrayed negatively.

    PS – Loved you’re speech at Alabama last week, thank you so much for your visit!

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